By Allen Palmeri
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario—When Missouri Baptists like those from the Twin Rivers Baptist Association try to be the missionary to a Canadian city like Sault Ste. Marie, anyone who even resembles a local contact is appreciated.
David and Evelyn Barker, a retired director of missions couple from Stockton, Mo., who have visited more than 100 cities and towns in Northern Ontario, have attempted to fill that void as researchers.
The Barkers bring a lot of experience to their role, having served seven years in Traverse City, Mich., starting a new work and leading several area home Bible studies that became churches before going on to pastor a church in Houghton, Mich., for 16 years. As North American Mission Board (NAMB) Missions On Short Term volunteers, they get in their camper and help set up local interviews like the one secured for The Pathway with Sault St. Marie City Councillor Susan Myers.
David, 74, and Evelyn, 72, will have been married 51 years Sept. 11 and are members of First Southern Baptist Church, Stockton. They are willing to travel wherever the Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) needs them in the vast expanse of Northern Ontario. Their observations become part of the process.
“We’re finding that the pastors who are really doing anything have been there at least 10 years and up to 30 years in a community,” David Barker said. “So it takes somebody who’s going to stay with it. They really need Canadian people, and up north of here they need Canadians who can speak French as well.”
As the Missouri Baptist Convention helps teams get on the field, it does so with a strategy of getting to know city leaders. Barker calls this “a practical worldview” that in the case of Myers and Sault Ste. Marie puts the local missionary group in touch with someone who “has connections with a lot of people in a lot of places.” It is thought to be a better method than going to the city’s religious leaders, who may not be as receptive toward outsiders.
“It introduces us to the powers that be,” Barker said. “Secondarily, a lot of times they’re more vocal about what the needs are and more open to ideas. It surprises many of them. They’ve never had somebody from a church come and ask them, ‘What can we do?’”
Evelyn Barker said it is going to take more of a Disaster Relief mindset to penetrate the darkness in Sault Ste. Marie. As she travels with her husband, taking notes along the way, she said her eyes are being opened to the needs that are all around them in Canada.
“It’s an opportunity to see the needs in a different culture and to realize that we’re not all seeing things the same way as what we do in Missouri,” she said. “It’s a different vision to go to these places. The government (in Sault Ste. Marie) has taken care of so many social needs that it’s difficult to find a niche where we can get started on some of this. This is all of the towns that I have seen. You’ve got to earn a right to communicate with people, and it’s difficult to find that little spot where we can make a difference.”
The Disaster Relief mindset is one of total ministry where physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are all being addressed. The Barkers first experienced this in Traverse City, where they saw a home Bible study become a church and went on to help another home Bible study group in Gaylord, Mich., become a church.
“We found that we needed to be active in the community,” David Barker said. “I taught hunter safety, I became a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and that led to other chaplaincy programs where I was endorsed by the Home Mission Board as a chaplain—jail chaplaincy and police chaplaincy. I also was active in the Ministerial Association and helped lead in that group.”
Wherever they go they preach longevity. For 16 years they stuck it out in snowy Houghton, which is one of the northernmost cities in Michigan with people whose habits and customs resemble those of Canadians. By slowly earning the trust of the natives, they saw a group of about six people who had been coming to a home Bible study grow to be a church of around 70-80.
“That’s what’s needed now here,” David Barker said.
Any Missouri Baptist church or association that is willing to be like Twin Rivers and step up as the missionary to a Northern Ontario city or town would be undertaking a priceless kingdom endeavor.
“We’ve seen a lot of churches that are sitting empty, a lot of buildings that are sitting empty, a lot of towns that are discouraged and they are declining in population, and they need a boost,” David Barker said.